While he's been keeping himself in the spotlight via some suitably glassy-eyed and loved-up remixes and collaborations, Phillip Lauer has not released much solo music in 2018. Now we know why: he was putting the finishing touches to "Power", his latest full-length for Gerd Janson's consistent Running Back label. As you might expect, all nine tracks ripple with giddy audio references to vintage dance styles of the '80s and '90s, from the synth-heavy Italo-disco revivalism of "Phaser7" and "Mirrors", to the rush-inducing electro positivity of "Direction" and the almost overwhelmingly sun-kissed pulse of Balearic-minded ambient opener "Blissos". While his inspirations are overwhelmingly old-fashioned, the resultant tracks are rarely less than brilliant, with the instrumental synth-pop rush of "Realistic" and muscular, Bobby Orlando-esque sing-along "Power" amongst the many sparkling highlights.
Following on from last year's debut album, techno trio Fjaak bounce back with another fine long player. Whether or not Havel is named after the former Czech dissident is unknown, but there is no doubt that it finds them in fine form. "Take Your Life", which features Koogan on paranoid vocals, could be an acid-soaked Prodigy during their heyday, while at the other end of the spectrum, "I Could Never Live Without You By My Side" and "Version 184.108.40.206" are atmospheric break beat pieces. Fjaak are also adept at creating tough techno - just check the banging sound of "Martin" - while they team up with Tobi Neumann for the deeper break beat house of "Apollo Tag 2". On the evidence of Havel, it seems Fjaak can do no wrong.
For his debut release on Lobster Theremin, ASOK aka Stu Robinson goes deep. The title track features rolling break beats, layered textures and a smokey vocal sample. "Frontier" is based on a similar approach, although this time the rickety 808s underpin a melancholic feeling and a brooding, dark bass that works its way through the arrangement. "Nowwhat" sees a flurry of dense, rhythmic activity, with Robinson dropping wired tonal sequences and eerie chords, while he closes out this atmospheric, moody release with "It's Over". Featuring the same type of vocals as the title track, it unravels over tight electro drums and woozy filters
Despite begin one of the leading lights in modern electro and putting put material on CPU and Raar, Eczo is Maelstrom aka Joan-Mael Peneau's debut release for Cultivated Electronics. As befits such an individualistic artist, it's a diverse affair: there's the wiry, high-speed electro funk of "Smoker", while on the title track, Peneau drops the tempo and opts for a more atmospheric arrangement. The approach changes radically again on the Sync 24 remix of "Smoker", with the label owner dropping a high tempo, electro funk version, led by sparse drums and a frenetic, stepping rhythm. Closing out the release is the swampy "Confidential", where Maelstrom uses a dense rhythm and a detuned bass to devastating effect.
Rubble is David Kennedy aka Pearson Sound's only release of 2018, and it marks a slight deviation in sound for him. The slowed down groove and teased out 303s of "Earwig" is one of the few times we'll hear the UK producer doing an acid track. While not as playable as some of his other material, it is nonetheless a brave artistic statement. In stark contrast the release also feature "Our Spirits Soar", which, with its soaring chords and high frequency melodic twists, could be Kennedy's tribute to Detroit techno. The title track meanwhile is led by booming bass and big claps and sees Pearson Sound in more familiar territory again.
Andrew Red Hand has been described as eastern Europe's version of Underground Resistance, and based on this release it's hard not to see some similarities. That said, Revolution '89 starts with the decidedly European-focused moody electro of "In The Cemetery", while on "Slaying the Dictator", he ventures into a more brooding, 4/4 techno approach which is informed as much by ebm and horror disco as techno. On "There is Hope", the Romanian producer's love of Detroit techno comes back again thanks to the use of a predatory bass and sublime synths, while "Bombing for Peace" sees him deliver a Chicago-influenced banger that centres on frenetic snares and mad acid lines.
Umek is best known nowadays for big room house and techno, but long before he had embarked on that route, he was synonymous with underground electronic music. In particular, the Slovenian producer gained acclaim for his unrelenting minimalism as Consumer Recreation and the Zeta Reticula project, which merged electro and dub techno. Although the latter project has been on hold for over a decade, this seventh instalment shows that Umek has lost none of his magic. "Chromospheric Activity" is an atmospheric stepper that features eerie synths, while on "13000 Au From Our Sun" and "A Common Motion Through Space", he draws on his industrial past to deliver tough, industrial electro bangers, led by steely percussion and visceral bass.
Next up with his take on the electro sound is Firecracker Recordings co-head Linkwood, who looks to Motor City greats like Drexciya and Japanese Telecom on the aquatic future-funk of "Fresh Gildans" which is quite majestic in all its soulful and bass driven feel. On the flip are two deeper and more introspective cuts, with the immersive "Solar Panel" going for a hypnotic ambient house vibe, or the sublime deep techno journey "Another Late Night" taking its cues respectfully from Detroit like on the previous side. Another great EP by this stalwart of the Scottish scene, which the label best describe themselves as designed for the dancefloor, the sofa and all points in between.
Spesimen aka Andy Crosby has put out material on Pomelo and Libertine as well as his own Infocalypse imprint and now adds Frustrated Funk to the list of underground labels his work appears on. Truth be told, Spesimen's sound is well suited to the Dutch label. "PSIO" is a dense, stepping affair, underpinned by metallic riffs, while on "Satellite", he follows a similar path, albeit this time with an even more menacing undercurrent as the drums pile up on one another. "Astrologer" isn't as intense, and sees Crosby deploy techno chords against the backdrop of tight, snappy percussion. Rounding off this wonderfully moody electro Ep are the eerie pulses of "Harmonik Science"
This is one of Degrader's first releases, but this new artist has chosen a high-quality platform in the shape of Nodezero. Like the imprint that it is released on, Uranium is not a typical electro record. On the original version of the title track, Degrader combines glitchy percussion, rolling drums and melodies that contain the spangled psychedelia of Border Community as much as they do electro's austere futurism. On the T/Error remix, a more robust electro bass and dense snares support the original melody lines, while the Direct Y version veers into the kind of widescreen, downbeat sound that is designed for home listening.